I had an incredible opportunity to speak at the Young Life Rochester East Ladies Basket Auction Brunch at Oak Hill Country Club a couple weeks ago. YL is near and dear to my heart. I was both excited and humbled at the opportunity. Below is the talk I shared. If you are looking to invest in an organization check out YL. If you have middle school or high school aged kids Wyld Life (for middle school kids) or YL (for high school kids) is worth checking out. For more info click here.
Good morning, Ladies. It is such a privilege to stand up here and to be able to share with you the story that God has written so far in my life and just how YL fits into it. I have to confess that when first asked to share my story my excitement level was through the roof. I love getting to share the work Jesus has done in me, but as this day drew nearer the task began to seem daunting because I started to realize there was just too much to share. YL is such a part of who I am and how I do life- how could I ever give words to something that is so woven through my heart and runs through my veins? I will do my best but know that for every one thing I share there are 10 more things I could have shared.
Growing up life was chaotic and messy.
My mom was a drug addict and my parents were never married. I never met my dad.
When I was 3 years old we moved from the city in with my grandparents in Webster. This added to the chaos of my young life because my grandfather was an alcoholic. If you can imagine, there was lots of yelling, lots of anger, and always someone leaving.
My grandmother was and still is my rock. She has always been more like a mother to me than a grandmother.
Home was chaotic. But as messy and chaotic as life was it was about to get worse.
When I was 9 years old, in November of 1990, my grandfather’s alcoholism took its toll and he died.
A year later, in October of 1991 my mom was murdered. After having been gone from home for 2 months straight, she went out one night to score drugs. Three teenage boys robbed her, knocked her down on the ground and shot her in the back of the neck.
She lived for 48 days after, paralyzed from the neck down, when she made the decision to be taken off of life support.
After each loss my grandmother would sit me down and she would tell me the same thing. God works in mysterious ways and everything happens for a reason.
As hard as these two losses were for me they didn’t break me and I clung to a belief in a God who was bigger than my hurt.
I clung to that belief until I was 14 years old. In the summer of 1995 my childhood best friend was murdered. Maybe it was because it was just too much loss at this point for a girl to take or maybe it was because my friend had never hurt me or abandoned me the way my family had, but I broke. I stood in Mass one Sunday and I silently screamed that God, either you don’t exist or you’re not good and I want nothing to do with you.
Lost, lonely and broken I walked through middle school and most of my high school years. Then one spring day a friend invited me to YL camp. She had invited me earlier that year to Campaigners but when I found out that it had to do with God and that you actually read the Bible I turned down her invitation.
But camp was a different story. Camp seemed fun and exciting and the boy I had a crush on my entire junior year was going. So I signed up. My expectations going to YL camp at
consisted only of having said crush fall in love with me. Saranac Lake
I stepped off the bus on a beautiful, sunny, August day in 1998 and I don’t think that boy talked to me once. He didn’t sweep me off my feet. But God did.
I heard about Jesus that week. I heard how the God of the universe created us and loved us but because of sin, a condition we all have, we are separated from Him.
Sin is an archery term, it means to miss the mark- anything short of perfection. Romans says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And Romans says, “For the wages of sin is death,” death meaning eternal separation from God. That wasn’t hard for me to grasp. I knew I wasn’t perfect. I knew from all the hurt I had experienced growing up that people were anything but perfect. And I knew that I was not living a life that had any kind of relationship with God.
And as I listened that week I heard how it didn’t matter how hard I tried to do good things, be a good person, or make right choices. I could never fix my sin condition. I could never earn my way to God. Earning my way to God would be like trying to jump to the moon. Maybe I could jump higher than some people but jumping all the way to the moon is impossible.
But God loved you and He loved me too much to leave us dead in our sin. He made a way. He made a way through His son, Jesus. God sent His one and only Son, Jesus, to be born of a virgin, live a perfect, sinless life, and die on the cross in our place. Three days later he rose, conquering sin, death and the grave forever.
Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
God made a way because He loves us. He made a way because we couldn’t get to Him. He made a way because He thinks we are worth it. He made a way and the way is Jesus.
Every talk I heard, every person I encountered at YL Camp spoke love over me and to me. Yes, I was broken. Yes, I was lost. But we all were. And we didn’t have to stay that way.
I decided that week that if God loved me and thought I was worth it then I wanted a relationship with Him.
And so began the impact YL had on me. As a 17 year old girl YL spoke the truth of who Jesus is and then walked beside me to show me His love. YL helped to make Jesus real for me.
And this broken girl began to find healing, peace, joy and comfort.
When I talk about the impact of YL please know all that encompasses- YL is a wonderful organization but it is made up of people. So as I talk about the impact of YL it is the people, my leaders, Christine and Rick, Kelly, Kristie and
, John and Laura who are imprinted on me. It is my friends that piled into club and
campaigners week after week as we grew together in our faith walk- Christine,
Jill, Dan, James, Becky, Chris, Amanda and Courtney. It’s the girls who would pile into my car
week after week when I was on YL staff- Brandi, Melissa, Sam, Ani, Bethany,
Erin and Katelynn. YL is about
relationships. These are the
relationships that have molded my heart.
These are the relationships I treasure. Chad
|Kristie & me at my baby shower|
The impact that YL has had on me stretches far beyond my last year of high school. It impacted me as a high school kid, as a young woman and even now as a wife and mom, YL is still impacting me.
As a high school kid YL provided a place for me to meet and grow in my relationship with Jesus. Every Friday morning of my senior year of high school you would find me sitting around with a group of my peers at in the morning singing songs and opening our Bibles, soaking in whatever lesson our leaders had planned that day.
YL provided a safe place for me to have fun but to also learn how to share who Jesus was to my friends who didn’t go to camp and to my friends who, like me months before, didn’t know there was a God who loved them. So, every Tuesday night you would find me huddled in some kid’s basement, singing loud songs, laughing like crazy and sitting on the floor listening to a 10 minute talk about who Jesus is.
As a high school kid YL put adult leaders in my life who modeled for me what it looked like to live a life surrendered to Jesus and what it looked like to love people well. My leaders loved me and they accepted me. My YL leader, Christine, even took me to tour colleges which is something my grandmother never would have been able to do with me.
As a young woman in college I carried with me the foundation that YL had built of what it looked like to love others and to share Jesus with them. I took with me the importance of spending daily time with God and investing in the people He put in my life.
After graduating college I went on to work for YL for 2 years as an intern in
. It was
here that I reconnected with two YL leaders from my senior year of high
school. Kristie and Chad Rush moved to
Buffalo the same time that I went on YL staff.
Kristie and I connected again. They
opened their home to me while I worked for YL and I moved into their
basement. Weekly, Kristie and I would
get together and do a Bible study. She
mentored me and challenged me the way she had so many high school girls before. She did life with me the way only a YL leader
really knows how. And the impact YL had
on her was now impacting me and what she poured into me I was pouring out into
the girls I was working with. Hamburg, NY
|Rick Rogan officiating our wedding|
It was the years working for YL that I would hear Rick Rogan talk about loving kids well and that God’s love is bold. He would challenge us to ask hard questions and speak hard truths.
I would find myself sitting in my car with one of my high school girls in her driveway and as she would pour out her heart and share what she was really thinking and feeling and what was really going on, the things high school girls don’t always tell their moms, their friends or facebook, Rick’s words would crash through my mind. I would find myself asking the questions heavy with the weight of eternity. What did you think about what so & so shared at club tonight? Who do you think Jesus is? If God loves you and wants a relationship with you and Jesus made a way all you have to do is accept it, how do you feel about that?
As I left YL and went on to work a lot of other jobs from Starbucks to a construction company I would carry with me the impact of those who had poured into me.
That ministry is wherever you are and that loving others for Jesus is intentional.
I viewed my co-workers as my ministry and approached them the only way I knew how at this point- with love, with honesty, and with the desire to share with them the incredible truth that Jesus loves them.
As a wife and mom I have seen the impact YL had on me. I didn’t have a father figure growing up. I hadn’t seen a healthy marriage modeled to me. But then I was a part of YL. And I watched my leaders. I listened as Rick shared stories about his wife and his kids. I spent a month on work crew and watched how the staff there treated their spouses and spoke kindly to them. I was a sponge and I soaked in all I could. I lived in Kristie and
’s basement and I saw how they loved each other, not perfectly
(perfection is never the goal) but well.
I saw how love never walked away.
And I saw them parent their two kids- how they loved them, poured into
them, how family was the priority and Jesus was woven into everything. Chad
I’ve been married almost 6 years now to a man who is much quieter and more even keel than I could ever dream of being. We have a 19 month old little boy, Sullivan and another little boy on the way. We met in college, and while I worked for YL he volunteered with Wyld Life. Rick Rogan officiated our wedding and Kristie and Chad Rush have become our family. We often talk about if God will move us out of the city of
at some point and how great it would be to live in a town where there is YL so
our kids can be part of an organization that means so much to us. Buffalo
16 years after I stepped foot off of that bus at Saranac Lake there is no doubt in my mind that I was stepping onto sacred ground.
16 years later and YL still matters. It’s woven into my life and into how I do life.
So, why does this matter for you? Let me give you 3 reasons.
1) It matters because way back when, 16 years ago, I couldn’t afford to go to camp. My grandma and I didn’t have extra money. So, it was sweet people, like you beautiful ladies here this morning, who gave of their money in order that I might go to camp. I remember weeding gardens for a couple hours to earn money toward my trip. I know they gave me far more than my weeding earned me. And if I knew then what I know now I would have weeded 1,000 gardens that summer.
Sometimes I wonder if when I get to heaven I will get to meet the sweet people that donated money to my camp trip. I would love to hug them and to thank them. I wonder if they have any idea the impact their dollars had on my life.
2) It matters because the impact YL has goes beyond camp. It goes beyond high school kids. It’s bigger than me and it’s bigger than you. It matters because the work of YL is kingdom work. It’s eternal. And it’s a really neat thing when we can come along side God and His work, open ourselves to live generously, and partner with Him. My kids will grow up knowing that God created them, that He loves them and that Jesus wants to be their friend forever because 16 years ago some leaders and staff thought I was worth it enough to share the incredible love of Jesus with me at YL Camp. That’s what we get to be a part of. My kids’ story will look so much different than mine because of Jesus. And Jesus used YL to do that.
3) It matters because if you are a parent, then you know this truth; there is nothing that makes your heart beam more then when someone loves your kid. If you want to win me over, love my little boy. I’ve thought how this, too, is God’s heart. Want to make God’s heart smile? Love His Son. Love His children.
Do you know what these YL leaders do, some paid and most volunteer? They love your kids.
They pray for them, they think about them, they figure out how to challenge them, how to encourage them and no matter what your kid is walking through or dealing with YL leaders come along side and do life with your kids. Invest in these leaders. I don’t know what that looks like for you- maybe it’s donating money but maybe it goes beyond that. Maybe it’s having your local volunteer leader over for dinner because they are in college and what college kid couldn’t use a hot, home cooked meal. Maybe it’s giving them a gas card because a synonym for YL leader is also chauffer. Maybe its writing them a note and letting them know that you appreciate them and that the work they are doing matters.
YL is in the business of loving kids and sharing Jesus. The work is hard. The impact is eternal. And we can all be a part of it.